The oversharing society
People increasingly make private moments public, and social media are intruding on our lives as never before. We must develop new skills of restraint, empathy and resilience
So can we now revolt if something embarrassing surfaces online after we have broadcast so many personal details about ourselves?
“The reason social media works is that people like sharing things they feel other people may not know about yet,” says Stephen O’Leary, the founder of Olytico, a data-analytics company that tracks social media. “So everybody likes to be the person who says, ‘Oh my God, have you heard?’ And then the extension on that sentence changes based on what you’re interested in. If you’re interested in sport it could be about a transfer, if you’re into music it could be a new band coming to town, and if you like celebrity gossip it could be about a celebrity’s marriage.
“But there is also an element of, ‘Oh my God, have you seen?’ And it can be real-life situations in which the person or event you want to share is not famous but is controversial, and being the first person to share it is the thing: the person who is retweeted, the person who is liked on Facebook, the person whose Instagram photo is liked. There is a finders-first syndrome, and people want to be the first finder.”
Jonathan and Anna Saccone-Joly, who live in Cork, have made a living out of sharing, by broadcasting a daily show about their lives on YouTube. As a programme it’s mundane, but many of the Saccone-Jolys’ videos get hundreds of thousands of views.
“We’re in a bit of a different position to kids who might overshare stuff, because we’re adults,” Jonathan says. “We make very conscious decisions about what we share and don’t share. I’ve built an entire business around sharing, but because I share a large portion of my life I keep another part private.”
He believes the impetus to share is rooted in an insecurity that generates a need for endorsement. “Everyone wants to get liked or get a thumbs-up. I suppose Facebook is just a schoolyard; there’s a lot of competitive things brought on. So if you share that little bit of juicier stuff, maybe more people might like you. There’s a sense of peer pressure.”
The Saccone-Jolys have broadcast trips to the shop, Anna’s pregnancy, their wedding, what they eat. It’s as entertaining or as numbing as an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Given the number of people who watch or subscribe, the couple are able to make a living from their videos.
Jonathan believes the double-edged sword of sharing is just something people have to deal with. “You can’t really complain about it if you put it out there. Our privacy [is] intruded upon all the time. It’s generally positive, though. I’ve never felt threatened; it’s not a negative thing.That’s my fault. I take responsibility for that . . . I don’t know what it’s like to be in school on social media, because when I was in school there weren’t even mobile phones. But I’d say it’s hard, with all the sharing and people can see what’s going on in your life, who you’re with, young relationships. I’d say that’s tough.”
The dangers of oversharing on social media once related to the impact it might have on one’s professional life. But the personal effect has been more of a worry in recent cases, many of which have involved intrusion, or sharing by others against the subject’s wishes.
The idea of seeking permission before passing on private details seems to have been forgotten. The photographs from the Slane concert are a prime example of this, but there have been several incidents recently. These include the private Facebook conversation between friends, one of them a young woman who spent a night with two famous Irish rugby players, which went public last month and led to the woman being hounded by the press. In May a judge ordered the removal from the internet of a video of a DCU student who had been wrongly identified as having evaded a taxi fare. In January a video of a young woman ranting about her father’s profession late at night in a Dublin pizzeria spread across the internet until many users chastised its dissemination as an equivalent of bullying.